It was far from perfect and a scrappy second half to some extent blotted out an outstanding start, but the DHL Stormers should nonetheless be pleased with the easy 18-3 win over the Lions at Newlands that has ended a long sequence of defeats in Vodacom Super Rugby this season.
The win enabled the Stormers to extricate themselves from the wooden spoon position on the Super Rugby log, and by easing ahead of the Toyota Cheetahs they have perhaps started the mountain climb that their coach Allister Coetzee spoke about at the start of the week. With six derby matches still to come, perhaps there is still just enough room for the Stormers to keep dreaming.
The result was also sweet revenge for the Stormers, as it was as comprehensive as the Lions’ big win against them in Johannesburg back in February. That was the result that induced the pall of negativity that has enveloped Cape rugby of late, so it was important for the Stormers to respond.
For an Easter Saturday in Cape Town the turn-out of more than 22 000 wasn’t bad, and perhaps the queues of fans who lined up at the last minute to buy on day tickets knew something for this was easily the most entertaining performance from the Stormers in a couple months of Sundays.
The downside was that they did not build on their impressive first half. They led 18-0 at the break, but did not add to that score in the second 40 minutes, and seemed a bit bemused by the refereeing of Stuart Berry in that period. They did give away too many penalties to really sustain the momentum of the first half.
That first half was exemplified by a much more consistent performance from the Stormers forwards at the set-pieces, with the game starting off with the Stormers winning one against the throw at the first lineout and then forcing a penalty at the first scrum. It was certainly a much better start than the one they managed in Johannesburg eight weeks ago, and it at least partially explains the difference in result.
It was though the greater confidence the Stormers showed in putting their plan together, and that plan has been explained now by coach Allister Coetzee. It is about attacking off turn-overs, something that the Stormers in this match did remarkably well. The error rate, at least in the first half, was light years better than it has been in a while, and surprise, surprise, the Stormers appear to have discovered the knack of taking the ball through more than just a few phases without making a mistake.
That has new-found ability has been helped by their sudden discovery of the art of passing through the tackle and attacking the gainline. The Lions were depleted for this match, with skipper Warren Whiteley a late withdrawal and so was lock Martin Muller, but then the Stormers have a far more extensive injury list and are supposedly not allowed to use it as an excuse so neither should the Lions.
Of course, the Lions would have discovered quite quickly that playing at the coast is quite different to playing on the Highveld, and Marnitz Boshoff, so perfect in that first round game, missed his first kick at posts and generally didn’t come close to replicating his Ellis Park assurance. Of course that was also partially because he wasn’t allowed to.
That the home crowd appreciated what they saw was illustrated by the Mexican Wave that was started up on the grandstand with 20 minutes to play and the Stormers 18-3 ahead. Maybe the pall of negativity that has enveloped Cape rugby of late is not there to stay after all.
The Newlands faithful never did get to see what the intention was in the selection of Peter Grant as a fullback, for Demetri Catrakilis, the man selected at No 10, left the field with what looked like a bloody mouth shortly after putting the first points on the board through a penalty. So Grant moved up to flyhalf, and what do you know, in came Jaco Taute at fullback and against his old team turned in by far his best performance since leaving Gauteng.
Taute is a big digit and when he is confident and in form he is a menacing presence, something he showed with his impressive first half display. Grant was nonetheless better at pivot than he has been and the backs in general looked more potent as an attacking unit as they varied the depth of their attack and showed a pleasing willingness to pass the ball through the tackle.
Grant added a penalty to Catrakilis’ earlier effort to make it 6-0 after 16 minutes and then the Stormers showed what could be done with their intention to play with turn-over ball as they punched up into Lions territory after turning one over in their own 22. It was Damian de Allende who created the opportunity by kicking ahead for Juan de Jongh to pick up and carry the ball towards the Lions 22, and when the ball was thrown inside the Lions were penalised for a breakdown infringement.
Quick thinking from the Stormers saw them take the option of the tap penalty and with the Lions defence in disarray the hosts built up to the right and with the Lions at a complete disadvantage in numbers it was De Allende who finished off by weaving in and out the last remaining Lions defenders to put the Stormers 11-0 ahead.
That was after half an hour and the most impressive thing about it was that it happened while Deon Fourie was off the field after being carded for a shoulder charge.
The first Stormers try though was nothing compared to the second, which might well have been the best Stormers try in a couple of seasons for the way it was created through taking the ball through several phases before that man De Allende was on hand to again make an impact as he put Nizaam Carr in for the try on his inside. The ball passed through way too many hands as it was moved this way and that across the Newlands field for there to be space to go through the entire movement, but that score alone, because it’s type has become so rare, was worth the price of the entrance ticket alone.
Tries: Damian de Allende, Nizaam Carr. Conversion: Peter Grant. Penalties: Demetri Catrakilis, Peter Grant.
Penalty: Marnitz Boshoff